Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Late Great Willis Pyle

Animator Willis Pyle died on June 2 at the age of 101. He had worked on Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), and Bambi (1942) at Disney and later worked at UPA on such shorts as "Ragtime Bear" (the debut of Mr. Magoo) and "Gerald McBoing Boing".

Willis Pyle was born on September 3 1914 in Portis, Kansas. His brother was actor Denver Pyle. He was studying art at the University of Colorado and working as an advertising illustrator for a clothing store when he noticed a poster for Walt Disney Studios about hiring animators. It was then in November 1937 that he moved to Los Angeles and began working for Walt Disney.  He began work there as an office boy, but soon he was an assistant animator on Pinnochio.

Willis Pyle went on to serve as an assistant animator on Fantasia and Bambi. Afterwards he left Walt Disney to work for Walter Lantz. During World War II he served U.S. Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City. After the war he worked as an artist for Vogue and went to work at UPA. He would work on some of UPA's most famous theatrical shorts, including "Ragtime Bear" and "Gerald McBoing Boing". He also worked on the very last Fox and Crow cartoon, "Punchy De Leon".

After the era of theatrical cartoons had ended, Mr. Pyle worked on the feature films Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977) and The Mouse and His Child (1977). He worked on several television specials, including Really Rosie, Noah's Animals, Halloween Is Grinch Night, A Special Valentine with the Family Circus, and This Is America, Charlie Brown. After his animation career ended he took up painting. Many of his works were displayed at Montserrat Contemporary Art Gallery in Manhattan, New York City.

Along with Don Lusk, Willis Pyle was one of the oldest surviving animators from the Golden Age of Animation. He was also one of the most versatile. Indeed, he worked on Disney's animated features (which strove for a degree of realism), Walter Lantz's theatrical shorts (which used more traditional, American "funny animal" animation), and UPA's shorts (which eschewed realism for limited animation). It was this adaptability, as well as his sheer talent as an artist, that allowed him to have such a long career. Indeed, it is not many animators who can boast that they animated Pinocchio, Mr. Magoo, Gerald McBoing-Boing, and the Grinch.

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